Illinois men’s tennis completes perfect weekend at home

Illinois’ Farris Gosea hits the ball during the match against No. 8 Texas at Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 9. The Illini won 4-3.

The No. 11 Illinois men’s tennis team finally returned home to the Atkins Tennis Center this weekend after a stretch of six straight road matches. Home matches have meant one thing all season for this Illini team: wins. The Illini are now 16-7 (5-2) after taking down conference foes Michigan State and Michigan this weekend. The wins also improved Illinois’ home record to 9-0.

“Playing for the home crowd is always great, having our home fans I think is definitely an advantage for us,” junior Farris Gosea said.

On Friday, the Illini rolled through their first match of the weekend with a 6-1 win over Michigan State. The Illini were expected to win, as they haven’t dropped a match to the Spartans since 1997.

The match also held a little extra meaning for head coach Brad Dancer. Dancer was an All-Big Ten player at Michigan State in the early 1990s, and also began his coaching career with the Spartans.

“Playing Michigan State is always a special match for me. Coach Orlando was my coach my last two years in school and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Dancer said.

Although Illinois was able to breeze through Michigan State, they weren’t able to do the same to Michigan when the two battled on Sunday. Illinois pulled out a 5-2 win but pushed much harder than the score indicated.

Doubles has been a tough spot for the Illini all season, and they haven’t seen much improvement since the return of Jared Hiltzik to the lineup, losing two doubles points in a row heading into the weekend. The Illini started off in a hole once again against Michigan as they dropped another doubles point. Illinois even had match point in all three of the doubles matches against the Wolverines, but wasn’t able to close them out.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” Dancer said.

Illinois’ slow start to the match didn’t translate into singles play. No. 42 Tim Kopinski once again set the tone for the Illini as he cruised through his match, winning 6-2, 6-2. Kopinski has been on fire as of late, winning his last seven singles matches.

Kopinski’s teammates were able to follow his example, and a few had significant comebacks. Blake Bazarnik came back after a sluggish start in the first set and Ross Guignon won his third set 6-4 after dropping the second 1-6.

The clinching victory came from Illinois’ top singles spot when No. 23 Gosea dramatically went back and forth with No. 115 Alex Petrone, before finally finishing him off in the third, 6-2. Gosea stayed collected throughout, but when he finally clinched the victory he threw his racket to the ground and gave a huge yell to the crowd.

“Honestly I thought I was going to lose that in the third, but to come out and win that one was a really nice experience for me,” Gosea said.

Brett can be reached at [email protected] or @blerner10